Herman Gorter 1921
First Published: in “The Workers’ Dreadnought,” October 22nd, 1921, Vol. VIII, No. 32;
Translated: from German: “Proletarier” Nr.9, September 1921.
The post-war situation of the international workers’ movement is distinguished from the pre-war period by certain fundamental changes.
Through the war a great world economic crisis has increased the tension between capital and labour to breaking point. The general disruption of the capitalist system of production has lowered enormously the standard of living of the world proletariat. Nevertheless, the working class of the entire world, without exception, undoubtedly remains content to better its condition, if it can, within the capitalist system, by the old pre-war methods. Especially in the countries which are directly affected by the war has the vicious and fallacious running round in a circle, from which there is no escape, been developed. It is clearly proven here that every apparent increase in wages is automatically, nullified through a corresponding rise in the price of commodities on the one side, and on the other, through the greater output of the paper money press, which causes a fallacious depreciation in the value of money. The rise in the price of commodities, which is simultaneous with the depreciation in the money value, is naturally followed by fresh wage demands, and thus the vicious circle continues.
This situation, so unbearable for the exploited classes, can only be altered by the destruction of the capitalist system and the establishment of a Communist system of production and distribution.
Whilst the policy of social reform was once an historic necessity to raise the condition of the working class, as a preparation for undertaking the final struggle for political and economic power; to-day social reformist tactics are proved to be wholly illusory. To pursue them further will cause ever-increasing misery to the proletariat, a misery which as it grows will stimulate their revolutionary energies.
The development sketched here in outline, has called forth, within the working class itself, far-reaching changes, which have led it far from its position before the world war. The outstanding characteristic of the epoch of the Second International is the organisational unity of the workers’ movement. Social Democracy was, in effect, the united political organisation of the proletariat, whilst the Trade Unions fulfilled the same function on the economic field. This organisational unity bound together political conceptions which were diametrically opposed. Thus the German Social Democracy united the Revolutionary Wing of Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and Mehring with the revisionist tendency of Bernstein, Heine, David, etc., and between these two extremes was the famous Marxist Centre. The uniting within one party of tendencies which were as the poles apart, when regarded historically, is seen to have been possible only because, during the period of the Second International, social reform and revolution did not confront each other as dialectical antitheses. Both principles formed then a united whole in the class-war. That is the real reason why it was possible to have a united political organisation, as represented by social democracy in the pre-war period.
The characteristic phenomenon of the post-war workers’ movement is the organisational disruption on the political and economic field. The splitting of the organisationally united framework is a clear proof that the political oppositions within the working class have acquired quite a different significance from that they presented during the Second International period. The mass of the proletariat today groups itself round the two poles: Social Reform, and Revolution. The position today differs from that of the pre-war period in that these two poles represent absolute opposites, which mutually exclude each other.
The policy of Social Reform is synonymous today with a Reformist policy. The leaders of Reformism, as in the pre-war period, are the Trade Unions; but equally so today are those parties which are working in league with the Trade Unions. The chief aim of the Trade Unions is to reconstruct Capitalism. This aim is quite clearly formulated by them. Therefore, for them, alliance is only possible with parties which stand for the reconstruction of Capitalism and accept as a basis the political and economic union of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
In this sense the Moscow International works quite openly with the Amsterdam Trade Union International and the “Two and a Half International.” To most of the sections adhering to the Third International, this is neither repugnant nor surprising, because they have remained inherently the same Social Democratic Parties which they were before their baptism in the holy water of Communism. The only new circumstance is that the language as well as the composition of the Third International can no longer be distinguished from that of Social Democracy. No longer will it set aside any manifestoes as opportunist; the call to participation in the reconstruction of Capitalism resounds ever more clearly as the official Moscow policy.
In Germany the participation of the Communist Party in the united front presented by those sections of the proletariat which have made common cause with bourgeois democracy for the protection of the capitalist Republic, speaks in such unmistakable language that every proletarian must notice in which direction the Communist Party has turned. This is perhaps more clearly apparent in the abandonment of the tactics of opposition to the reactionary Trade Unions, on the part of the German Communist Party. The deal by which the revolutionary district executive of the Halle Metalworkers was united by the Communist Party with the Central Union, from which it had seceded, was not exactly honourable. In fact it was a suspension of the fight against the Amsterdam International and a direct participation in the reconstruction of Capitalism under the wing of Amsterdam. Today the Moscow International finds itself in tow to the Amsterdam International, which means that it is actually in tow to the international bourgeoisie. The more Russia develops towards Capitalism, the more apparent will be the bourgeois character of the Third International.
Therefore we must admit that, regarded from an international standpoint, there is at present no organisation capable and willing of stepping forth as the instrument of the revolutionary world proletariat in the struggle against Capitalism and its adherents in the proletarian camp.
International Capitalism, aided by the Trade Unions, will make desperate attempts to overcome the present economic crisis. The overcoming of the economic crisis is largely dependent upon the opening of the Russian market to West European capital. The English and German capitalist groups especially are working to this end.
As a significant new sign, the tendency of the capitalist Great Powers to come to an understanding amongst themselves must be emphasised. In spite of the deep-rooted opposition of economic interests between Britain and America, Britain finds herself compelled to avoid every open conflict with the great trusts across the Atlantic. The same is true of England and France, and of America and Japan.
The national antagonisms within the sphere of world capitalism pale ever more and more. The economic and political collapse in the world standard of values rises as a threatening spectre before the proletariat of all countries. The Imperialist conflict of the capitalist Great Powers against each other is sunk in the class-war of international capitalism against the world proletariat. The withdrawal of Russia as a factor in the world revolution has completely altered the whole situation. A united bourgeois front for the reconstruction of Capitalism in conjunction with the Amsterdam Trade Unions and the Third International, has become an accomplished fact.
The revolutionary working class of the whole world stands powerless before the situation. It has no class-war organisation which would be capable and willing to lead the revolutionary struggle aiming at the dictatorship of the proletariat and Communism by proletarian methods. The longer the situation remains which secures to Capitalism an unbounded playground for the reconstruction of capitalist economy, so much harder will it be for the proletariat to maintain its defensive position towards the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois position.
The sooner an international centre comes into being, which will incorporate the interests of the proletarian revolution, so much sooner will the fall of the Third International take place.
A crystallised kernel must be formed to which those elements and groups which are opposed to the Moscow International and are comprised of what is known as “Left” Communism.
If the construction of a Communist Workers’ International does not take place at the right moment, we must expect those organisations in all countries which now stand for the platform of the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany to fall back to the level of the Third International.
The Conference of the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (the K.A.P.D.) has shown that it understands the signs of the times, and is willing to undertake the mighty task to be accomplished in the interests of Communism and the World Revolution.
1. In Britain, where the masses have long been politically backward, as compared with the Continent, the Labour Party, a later growth and a makeshift, replaced the Social Democratic Party as the political unit of the working class, side by side with it we had the small socialist societies. [WD’s note]